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Coach: Young Eagles will peak at right time

By BRANT JAMES

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 18, 2001


SPRING HILL -- The regular season matters little in most high school sports these days.

Springstead boys tennis coach Terry Hoffman is one of those thankful for that.

Last season, the Eagles, fielding just four players, finished 2-13 but rallied to place fourth in their district.

This year, the second-season coach has a fully-complemented team, but five players Hoffman is expecting to make contributions are freshmen.

So what, he said. They don't have to be ready until mid-April. And he thinks they will be.

"I hate the term "rebuilding', and I don't want to use it," Hoffman said. "I don't think it applies, even though we only have one senior and we will be woefully inexperienced.

"We just need to gain some experience and I think we can be viable," he said.

Senior Hugo Aviles, the only seeded upperclassman on the squad, returns to fill the No. 1 slot vacated by the graduation of Brian Szudarek. Sophomore Johann Pambianchi will play at No. 2.

Then the freshmen take over. John Tenison and Jimmy Fisher will play at 3 and 4, respectively. Brian Fisher (Jimmy's twin brother), Lester Nichols and Eddie Dawson will battle for the fifth spot.

"We have five solid freshmen that can all play," Hoffman said. "They all have pretty good ground strokes, and I just have to figure out how to seed them because they're all pretty close.

"Eventually, I think we're going to be solid all the way through."

First-year Springstead girls coach Louis Harris has a similar notion.

"Watch out next year," Harris said.

That doesn't mean she's conceding anything this season -- not after a 1-10 record last year and not with the pace at which her players are gorging on free tennis lessons.

"Rather than just play, we structure 50 percent of practice for instruction," said Harris, a certified teaching pro.

"Proper strokes, footwork, strategy. It's the first time some of them have gotten in-depth instruction, and they would pay a lot of money for that."

The Eagles return junior Michelle Gimbel, who will share the top seed with sophomore Leah Garcia, a transfer from St. Petersburg Catholic. They will be Springstead's No. 1 doubles squad.

"It's pretty nice to have both of them," Harris said. "They're very comparable."

Freshman Jenna Pecsenka will fill the third slot, followed by sophomore Tiffany O'Connell and junior Katie Gawerecki.

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